by Dave Moore, Staff Writer
A crowd of about 300 gathered at the DRC’s State of Higher Education Luncheon, where they heard University of North Texas System Chancellor Lesa Roe describe her experience growing up as a first-generation college graduate, and the parallels between her former career as an electrical engineer at NASA and higher education.
“My mom was a switchboard operator,” said Roe, who took the helm at the UNT System last fall, overseeing the system’s operations, including its 10,000 employees. “My dad was in the military, and when he got out, he worked on airplanes and was a groundskeeper at a Veterans’ Administration hospital. I worked for as long as I can remember, pulling corn in my grandfather’s field in hot Florida – lord if that’s not a motivator – and PawPaw didn’t pay.”
In speaking to a sellout ballroom at the Westin Galleria, Roe said her father encouraged her to pursue a degree. Her mother, however, discouraged her from pursing higher education because she didn’t want her to be disappointed.
“I take that lesson with me today, because sometimes, your culture is so thick, so pervasive, that you don’t believe that you can get out of it,” Roe said. “You think that people who succeed are special, and you’re not. And you’re afraid to step out of the box, until you step out of it. The big part of me talking to all of you today, is to let our kids know that here in Dallas-Fort Worth, that they can step out of [the box]; they can create a new story for themselves.”
Roe said her story strongly applies to the lower economic population in Dallas County, to whom higher education might seem a distant dream.
“I also know what it’s like to have people tell you that you can’t, and what it’s like to decide for yourself,” she said. “If you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right. So for me, never define yourself as a victim, prove them wrong and keep moving. My college education equipped me for this.”
Roe, who worked for 30 years at NASA and helped create the International Space Station, said there are many commonalities between higher education and space exploration.
“The bulk of my professional experience has been in aeronautics and space, but I’m now applying that knowledge to higher education,” she said. “While my new colleagues might feel I’ve landed in this industry from another planet, there really are commonalities.”
Following Roe’s address, The Dallas Morning News business columnist Cheryl Hall moderated a roundtable discussion with UT-Dallas President Dr. Richard Benson, Dallas County Community College District Chancellor Dr. Joe May and Texas Rep. John Zerwas. The discussion primarily addressed the origins of those institutions of higher education, and the challenges and successes they’ve experienced.
“One of the biggest challenges is, how are we going to achieve our goal of 60 by 30 – getting 60 percent of the population some sort of post-secondary credential by 2030?” asked May, referring to the state’s higher education plan that aims to educate more than half a million individuals – ages 25-34 – with a certificate or degree by 2030.
“We’ve got to grow the degrees by 40,000,” he said. “How do we get people in the door, and how do we get people out, not just with any degree, but aligned with the job market, in the North Texas area? That means reaching deeper into the (population) pool.”
In discussing DCCCD’s origins and track record, May said his district is comprised of 14 instructional locations that serve 165,000 students per year, through credit and non-credit. He added that non-credit student enrollment has increased by 16,000. In 53 years, the district has educated more than 3 million students, May said.
Benson said one of the biggest challenges facing UTD is managing growth to keep up with the Dallas Region’s growing economy.
“This area is booming,” he said. “Seems like there’s always another company moving to the metroplex. Growth is difficult. We’ve probably doubled the student body in the last 14 or 15 years. That comes with substantial infrastructure needs.”
Along those lines, Benson said, one state initiative that’s helped his university, as well as the University of Texas-Arlington and the University of North Texas, is the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP).
“TRIP… has been a wonderful program,” he said. “If our universities can attract philanthropic investment and research, the state was willing to put in a match, up to one-to-one.”
The initiative, launched by former State Rep. Dan Branch, has led to roughly $80 million in additional state funding, matching the $100 million UTD has attracted, Benson said. That program, however, has taken a hit, due to budget constraints.
“Right now, our university has about $32 million in the queue, and we’d like to have $32 million, in the next session,” said Benson, directing his comment to Rep. Zerwas, who chairs the Texas House Appropriations Committee.
In reply, Zerwas said, “Higher education is oftentimes that pot of money we go to when we don’t have enough money. The research fund that Dr. Benson mentioned is just that. I said, ‘mea culpa’ on that. I and my counterpart, Sen. Nelson, though, didn’t want to do that. But we were faced with a flat budget. No new money.”
Zerwas said the state’s budget faces growing expenses from Medicaid, and Health and Human Services, which are approaching expenditure levels of public education.
“We put together a budget that’s balanced,” he said. “We can’t print the money like they do in Washington.”
Zerwas acknowledged that the state’s future rests in educating its population.
“We’re a state that has been described as a ‘Texas Miracle,’” he said. “We have a lot of oil and gas. And we have a strong dependency on it, and we’ve done well. But we’ve got to recognize that what the future holds for the state is the resource of its educated workforce. That’s what’s going to attract people to build their businesses and to raise their families.”
The 2018 State of Higher Education was presented by UNT System. Silver sponsors were Microsoft Corporation, The University of Texas at Arlington and The University of Texas at Dallas.
by Dave Moore, Staff Writer
Buoyed by signs of growing public support and increased voter turnout, more than 100 education advocates in Texas gathered recently to build a strategy to bolster public education.
Taking part in the March 21 Dallas Regional Chamber’s Texas Public School Finance Convening, the group agreed that the State of Texas’ share of funding for public education has continued to shrink – down 7 percentage points since 2008 – and that the trend should be reversed.
Among those speaking was former Texas State House Public Education Committee Chair Jimmie Don Aycock, who described the ongoing predicament facing Texas’ public schools; they are ranked toward the middle of the pack academically, but public-school funding ranks 47th or 48th.
“Are we willing to stay average, with low-income jobs, or do you want Texas to do better?” he asked. “[The education finance problem] is not simple, or they would have solved it in 1836.”
Two recent metrics are giving education and business leaders hope for a solution:
Fellow speaker Jennifer Esterline, Executive Director of Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC), said key to achieving public education finance reform will be strengthening the coalition of business and education leaders, and sending a clear signal to legislators.
“Let’s get focused around a couple key messages that everyone can agree upon,” Esterline said. “Because one of the hardest things about school finance, is that… people start getting back into their silos.”
Key will be finding a solution that elevates all public schools students, rather than resolving singular issues, such as recapturing revenue from districts with rapidly rising land values, or increasing spending for rural districts, she said.
Along those lines, the group agreed, an important task will be informing voters that Texas’ public schools haven’t reaped the full benefit of Texas’ rapidly growing property tax base.
Statewide, taxable real estate values have increased substantially and, consequently, school district tax collections have been increasing $1 to $2 billion annually over the past five years, according to an analysis by Taxparency Texas. Yet while the State of Texas’ budget has benefited decidedly, public school districts have seen modest funding increases, said Missy Bender, President of Plano ISD’s Board of Trustees and leader of Taxparency Texas. The state has redirected the majority of these collections to other general fund items and also provided franchise tax relief for Texas businesses.
Aside from informing voters, another key will be efforts in increasing their participation, Fidelity Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs Scott Orr said to attendees of the convening.
“One of my passions right now is getting our employees out to vote,” said Orr, a Board Member with the Dallas Regional Chamber. “One of the things that businesses need to be doing now is stressing the importance of voting to our employees. We’ve seen some significant success.”
One analysis shows that voter turnout increased by nearly 20 percent statewide, comparing the March 2010 primary participation with the same period this year.
“That’s huge,” Orr said. “How much of that is due to efforts to get more people out there? It’s hard to say. But I do know it’s important for our legislators to know our community is voting. Even though we’re not telling them how to vote… At Fidelity, I say, ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re hard right or hard left, no matter where you are, you should be out voting.’”
The Dallas Regional Chamber and other major chambers, the North Texas Commission and numerous employers – such as Fidelity – began more intensive efforts to build voter turnout and awareness since the summer of 2017.
Orr said the work is paying off.
“I think we’re being heard,” he said. “I’ve been approached by legislators saying, ‘Hey, this is a problem. We want to work toward a solution.’ If we get this message out, on this problem of how we finance our public schools, there could be some folks out there who may have some ideas that could be new ideas.”
DRC Senior Vice President of Public Policy Priscilla Camacho stressed the sense of urgency in both the business and educational communities.
“There is a business case to be made for school finance reform, and we need to do it this year,” she said. “We don’t need to wait another two years, four years, or six years. We need to do it this session. And we can. If we put all of our heads together… we can come up with the solution to this problem.”
To learn more about the Dallas Regional Chamber’s public policy advocacy, click here.
by Dave Moore, Staff Writer
It’s the little things – the willingness to have a beer with a mentor, internships, a follow-up phone-call or even having a work-product to show off a job candidate’s skills – that Dallas area employers say they’re missing when they fill jobs locally. Of course, the newer things – experience in project management, the ability to use industry-related data and an understanding of the workings of their industries – that hiring managers desire as well.
Those were points of consensus from a broad swath of industry leaders in professional services – from the logistics, construction, consulting and real estate sectors – who attended the Dallas Regional Chamber Industry Convening Dec. 6.
“The construction market has had a huge uptick, especially in the nation’s fourth-largest economy, which is DFW,” said Thomas Crowther, Managing Partner of The Crowther Group, whose clients include Toyota, Wal-Mart and Target. “In fourth quarter of 2016, there was over $11 billion worth of construction services happening in this market,” he said.
Yet that increase in activity has coincided with a large number of baby boomer retirements, leaving the industry in need of individuals who can perform at that level. Crowther said his firm is working with high schools and lower-level schools to establish a replacement workforce.
A key element in making the transition will be workers’ willingness to communicate with each other, he said.
“It would help us for those two types of personalities (retiring baby boomers and millennials) to co-exist better, if there were more social skills,” he said. “It’s almost as if you’re working with your grandfather, or your dad. And so, sometimes, being involved with that organization on campus, or going to have a beer, is the conversation you’re going to have with tenured skillsman to learn the craft.”
Nearly all companies need workers with project-management skills, said Ty Beasley, Office Managing Partner at RSM US’s Dallas office – an audit, tax and consulting service that service mid-market clients.
“Project-management training… is industry agnostic,” said Beasley. “It is skillset agnostic. There is a project involved in everything. There’s a process between a start and a finish. Project management skills are becoming more critical in today’s environment.”
Beasley said that when a firm hires RSM, they’re seeking expertise or skills that aren’t available in-house.
KPMG’s Taylor McKamy, JLL’s Sarah Boehland and EY’s Anneliese Schumacher said their operations are in immediate need of individuals who are familiar with the tools of their trade. In JLL’s case, it’s ARGUS real estate software; in the case of KPMG, students should take courses in management information systems, which would help them understand databases, the use of big data and data analytics. EY is looking for dual majors – in both accounting, and in information systems/computer science/artificial intelligence.
“The other area that hasn’t been mentioned (in the discussion) is the need for underrepresented minority talent,” said Schumacher. “And really working with high schools, grammar schools, to increase the pool of underrepresented minorities, and students studying accounting and technology. That’s a big issue.”
The ability to adapt to changes in technology and the increased availability of data is important to Texas Central, Texas’ bullet train.
Arbuckle said in his former job at AT&T, his role evolved from analog technology, to the digital space over 30 years’ time; the learning curves of today’s workers must be much quicker, he said.
Though they cited needs for industry-specific skills and knowledge repeatedly, panelists said incoming hires still lack knowledge on the basics of creating subject and signature lines for emails, basic writing skills, and the ability to interact with people face-to-face. Employers at the panel also especially valued job candidates who were motivated enough to teach themselves skills, and who followed through after their initial contacts.
Panelists Mark Edgar of Hill+Knowlton Strategies and Jarlin Jia of Co.media agreed that job candidates should get as much experience in speaking and communicating as they can, through organizations such as via Toastmasters International.
“Working in a communications firm, we see that a lot of people have degrees in communications, who are still missing the mark in communications,” said Jason Meyer, of Cooksey Communications. “But we’re having to adjust the way we communicate internally, because there is less face-to-face communication, and there is more email. You can’t get tone.”
Meyer’s work at Cooksey has included representing the 23,000-square-acre mixed-use AllianceTexas development, which employs nearly 50,000 people in fields from logistics to financial services.
“From day one, the only thing that’s been holding back projects like AllianceTexas, and our region, is workforce development issues,” he said. Meyer said the development has collaborated with Workforce Solutions to create the Alliance Opportunity Center to help fill those jobs with professionals with matching skills.
“One of the key things I’ve been working on from a public relations standpoint is, ‘How do we get the word out? How do we make sure people know these jobs are available?’”
The DRC industry convening, which was sponsored by Bank of America, is part of its strategic mission to help educational institutions in the region to better prepare students to be workforce ready for the North Texas economy. It represented the fourth and final meeting of the 2017 series.
The panel held a roundtable discussion in front of an audience of representatives from North Texas learning institutions, including Dallas, Grand Prairie and Richardson ISDs, the University of Phoenix, UNT-Dallas, Southern Methodist University, Dallas Baptist University, the University of Dallas, Boy Scouts of America, Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas, the Oak Cliff Family YMCA, and Dallas Community College District.
by Dave Moore, Staff Writer
Help wanted: Service industry workers who can turn their interactions with customers into long-term relationships with companies. Must be good with technology, yet must not be addicted to their devices. Also should be effective in working with peers to resolve conflicts and solve problems. Should be good with numbers.
A tall order no doubt, but those are the needs of employers in the hospitality and retail sector in the Dallas Region, and nationwide.
Some of the nation’s leading HR professionals from the hospitality and retail sectors – including Wal-Mart, Target, CVS Health, Sheraton Dallas, USAA, the Hilton Anatole, The Joule hotel and Sewell – convened recently at the Dallas Regional Chamber to discuss employee attributes crucial to their success, and existential challenges to their industries. Among their industry threats: Online price competition, intense competition for good workers, and employee turnover.
One solution agreed upon: a system where service-industry jobs become careers, in which workers advance in pay and competence by obtaining industry certifications that mark their skills in customer service, sales and communications. This approach – called creating “stackable credentials” – works in a fashion similar to the system that employs engineers, attorneys and even airplane pilots.
“Walmart Foundation has invested in both the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Retail Industry Fundamentals credential, as well as the Western Association of Food Chains’ Retail Management Certificate,” said panelist Danielle Goonan, a senior HR manager at Walmart Giving. “In the hopes that one day, a system of stackable credentials will be recognized, validated and incentivized in retail.”
Many service industries have adopted the NRF’s credential plans, or initiatives that meet similar ends, panelists at the DRC discussion said.
“We are absolutely huge supporters of growth and development within our property,” said Rebecca Rodriguez, an assistant at the downtown Dallas Sheraton, a 14-year employee at the company. “One of and our proud moments is when we are able to promote from within.”
Rodriguez said aside from familiarizing new hires with the company culture early on, Sheraton relies on peer-mentors to guide them in their training. Though employees often begin their careers as front-desk agents, Rodrigues said, they are encouraged to work in other hotel operations, including guest services, and even as a concierge.
“Once you have expertise in that role, your incentive is that you get ‘x’ amount of dollars more to your hourly rate,” she said. Eventually, employees work their ways to supervisory roles.
Panelists agreed that the sales and service industries face intense pressure due to the influence of the internet – sales professionals face price competition from customers who comparison shop online; and restaurants and hotels face scrutiny from online reviewers.
Those challenges are pressuring workers to exceed customer expectations, they said. Meanwhile, many service-sector workers are growingly absorbed in their smartphones.
“In hospitality, the internet has changed the way we communicate,” said Cherie Covault, assistant HR director of Dallas’ Hilton Anatole. “Our business requires us to be engaging with that person in front of you,” she said. “It’s not just a hello. It’s finding out a little bit about that person, connecting with that person, so they feel they’re the most important person in the person in front of you.”
Covault and other panelists agreed that when service industry professionals make that connection, they’re securing customer loyalty, and repeat business.
And while service-industry workers are expected to make those connections, they also must be able to use technology to improve both the employee and the customer experience.
“Most banks are closing brick and mortar (locations), but we’ve been in this (digital) space for years,” said Toni Howard Lowe, HR operations leader for USAA’s Dallas campuses. “We’re so connected with our membership, we are now at a place in our technology that we know if you have a child who is about to turn 16, so now we need to talk to you about car insurance, or our auto circle, which can help you connect to Sewell (for example) to buy a car.”
Likewise, according to Lowe, USAA believes that treating its employees well translates to excellent customer service.
“People ask why our customer index scores are so high,” Lowe said. “If you have really happy employees, that translates from a customer-service perspective. Internally, we have our employee satisfaction tool. It’s almost like an internal Facebook: ‘I’m not happy right now. The bathroom’s not clean.’ It’s annoying sometimes, but … feedback is a gift; it also gives us innovative ideas on what our employees need.”
Lowe added that USAA’s employees have strong connections with the company, its mission toward service personnel and their families.
Sewell Infiniti Pre-owned Sales Manager Ben Yarbrough said another way his company encourages exceptional customer service is by relating past success stories.
“Anytime we have a meeting, we tell a customer service story about a time when one of our associates provided exceptional customer service,” Yarbrough said. “It furthers our culture. It fosters this idea of, ‘How can I provide exceptional customer service? Where can I find the unique opportunity with this guest?’”
Panelists also agreed that one core attribute that companies of all sorts need is the ability to listen, the ability to demonstrate empathy, and to be able to work in a group to resolve conflicts and problems – also known as an “emotional IQ” – are sometimes more important than credentials, they agreed.
Jonathan Chaplowe, director of people and culture at The Joule hotel, said his organization vets prospective employees by watching how they interact in a scenario that includes conflict.
“They’ll be invited to a cultural interview, where they’ll come in, and basically sit around the table with everyone else in the group, and they will interact,” Chaplowe said. “We’ll put a project in front of them, and say, ‘OK, interact.’ Here’s what we’re expecting you to do. Part of that project is conflict, value-driven principles, to see how they defend them, and to see how flexible they are.”
While competition is fierce for quality workers, service sector employers are grappling with the issue that many prospective and current workers lack basic math and language skills. A recent study by the National Skills Coalition – sponsored by the Wal-Mart Foundation – found that 62 percent of all service-sector workers have limited reading skills, and 74 percent take basic math skills.
“Given these figures and their impact on both productivity and employees’ ability to advance, employers in this industry need to figure out ways to address this challenge, while preparing employees for the future of work,” Wal-Mart’s Goonan said.
Wal-Mart’s launched two initiatives to bridge that gap: One program, called Pathways, is a work-based training program that teaches them the basics of retail selling, and how to more effectively interact with customers; the second, called Academies, teaches employs more-advanced retail sales and how to run store departments. By the end of 2017, Wal-Mart will graduate more than 225,000 supervisors from its Academies program.
“We’ve got to use our partners in the community and take things that have been tackled from a foundational standpoint, through primary education,” said Allison Monroe, HR business partner at Target, adding that the company has customer-service training in roughly 1,800 Target stores. “All of us, as employers, have quite a bit of responsibility on our shoulders, to craft training environments or (educational) delivery methods that are reasonably flexible for all the different types of people we’re going to employ, and the different things we’re going to ask of them.”
Dallas Regional Chamber partner Bank of America is the sponsor of DRC industry convenings.
A video of event is available per member request to DRC manager Bryan Tony, 214.746.6643 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long-Range Plan Steering Committee Named
(Release courtesy of Texas State Board of Education)
AUSTIN – The State Board of Education has created an 18-member steering committee to help it develop a new Long-Range Plan for Public Education.
The committee will work throughout the 2017-2018 school year to draft recommendations that will be sent to the State Board, which will ultimately approve the final plan.
The steering committee is made up of five board members who are:
At the request of the board, the heads of three agencies appointed one staff member each to serve on the committee. Those appointees are:
Rounding out the committee are 10 stakeholder representatives. More than 600 Texans volunteered to serve on the committee when the board solicited nominations this summer.
“We are overwhelmed by the volume and quality of applications we received from Texans who offered to serve on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education Steering Committee. The 10 stakeholders selected will bring a wide breadth of the experience to the table,” Bahorich said.
“We hope to involve those who were not selected in other ways in the process, such as inviting them to community meetings that will be held around the state over the coming year,” she said.
The 10 individuals selected to represent stakeholder groups on the committee are:
The first meeting of the steering committee is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 12 in the board room, room 1-104, of the William B. Travis State Office Building, located at 1701 N. Congress Ave. in Austin.
The Texas Education Agency, The Texas Comprehensive Center (TXCC) at American Institutes for Research (AIR), and the Meadows Foundation are providing in-kind or financial assistance for this phase of the project.
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